Clarification about the decline in slave numbers in Washington County, Maryland

Posted on October 21, 2009 by

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I realized that I should probably clarify something in my post from the other day, that the decline of slave numbers in Washington County should not be thought of in terms of attributable to manumissions alone. It should not be misconstrued as some “Utopia” for slaves, as there were some who continued to escape North (as we also saw from the “Black Republican Proclivities” post) and some who were sold deeper into the South (which, according to Ernst in Too Afraid To Cry, was done by some owners in Washington County as a form of severe punishment to a slave). In fact, the subject of the decline in numbers was mentioned briefly in a very short piece in one of the issues (1860) of the Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torch Light. Still, when the Maryland Legislature forbade (it’s a long story that I will probably need to discuss in another post) further manumissions (effective June 1, 1860), slaveholders in Washington County freed at least another 50 slaves. The dates of freedom on some of those papers, however, was set for the years between 1870 and 1875. The same article (June 13, 1860) that mentioned these numbers also pointed-out that manumissions were even greater in neighboring Frederick County, some slaveholders there freeing 130 slaves before the June 1 deadline.

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